What Do We Own?

My good friend Jeremy is incredibly excited about the Indie Web movement and I am right there with him. I love the idea of owning your content and then syndicating it out to social networks, photo sites, and the like. It makes complete sense… Web-based services have a habit of disappearing, so we shouldn’t rely on them. The only Web that is permanent is the one we control.

But going down this rabbit hole got me wondering how much do we really control? And beyond that, what do we own?

To borrow a quote from Mandy Brown (which also Jeremy referenced):

No one owns this domain but me, and no one but me can take it down. I will not wake up one morning to discover that my service has been “sunsetted” and I have some days or weeks to export my data (if I have that at all). These URLs will never break.

I don’t know if her statement is true. Idealistically, I want it to be true, but consider the following:

  1. We rent domain names through registrars. We “purchase” domain names, but we must renew them from time to time to remain in control. Assuming you keep up the payments, they can still be seized for any number of reasons or they can be stolen. Or the registrar can go out of business and you have to scramble to move it to a new registrar.
  2. Most of us rent space on the Web. I can’t think of a single friend of mine who still personally hosts his or her website. As such, we are beholden to our hosts. Even if we keep on top of our payments, things can go wrong: They could crash or have another issue and lose all of our data. They could go under. Or they could simply lose your domain.

Knowing all of this—and realizing that when I am dead and gone all of the content I created could be lost to the ether if my family doesn’t know how to keep things going or doesn’t care to keep making these payments—I am left wondering how do we achieve the permanence of print on the Web?

I don’t have any answers, so I pose it as an open question to the Indie Web community. If you have some thoughts, I encourage you to post them on your own site and use webmentions to add them to this page. Or you can default to the comments.


  1. Oui, et autres causes possibles, @AaronGustafson en parlait il y a 2 ans : aaron-gustafson.com/notebook/what-… +@edasfr @loicmathaud


Note: These are comments exported from my old blog. Going forward, replies to my posts are only possible via webmentions.
  1. Joschi Kuphal 吉

    These are some very valid points that you are making, Aaron. I believe, however, that the most important thing is the content itself, not all the technical details involved in publishing. I mean, the very domain name I'm using for my stuff doesn't really matter, nor does the registrar. Both are pretty much interchangeable, while the content itself is not. The same goes for the webspace (sure, proper backup blah blah ...). In the end, I think there are two vitally important principles to stick to:

    1.) If a piece of content is really important to you, don't rely on others to take care of it. Keep the original as close to you as you can (which — for me — implies the opposite as well: If something is not too important for me, I may be permitted to be "careless" and just dump it wherever I like withouth being worried about it's future).

    2.) Try to keep the format of your content as simple and accessible as possible. Don't wrap it into technologies that are unnecessarily complex and might cease working anytime soon. This will also reduce dependency from others.

  2. Carnes

    An onion url doesn't require any payment to maintain. You can generate a human readable url too (not just random garbage). If your nice .com url goes un-paid because you died it wouldn't affect your onion. Keeping a server up after you're dead would be difficult. A solar powered raspberry pi near public wifi? Bonus points if it replies to social media mentions of you with something appropriate.

  3. collinmanderson

    If you want web content to last (outside of relying on another site like archive.org or github.io), it helps to have it live in a single static html file with all resources inlined. That way it can be easily copied and archived by your family and other people. Future generations won't need to worry about matching up relative or absolute paths between files. In fact, all of your content could live in a data url if you wanted.

    If you're worried about a registrar _and_ hosting, you may want to consider owning(leasing) an ip address and AS number and contracting with some isp to keep your server on the internet. You still need to remember that ultimately all identifiers (domains and ip addresses) on the internet are owed by ICANN and leased to everyone else. (hence the creation of .onion)

    I for one believe that if you want content to last, it needs to live on big sites such as archive.org, github, facebook, twitter, or wikipedia: places where you don't need to keep paying rent to the lower-level services to keep your content alive. Keep it in more than one place so you don't run into the geocities problem. I'm glad though that there's an indie web community around to hedge my bet.